Imagine that you owed First City Bank $1,000,000 and had no way to pay the debt. Imagine that I went to the bank and paid your debt in full. Awesome guy, right? But what if the bank refused to accept my payment on your behalf unless you stripped naked, ran through the streets of your city, and told everyone that you were a low-life, dirty, piece of shit who doesn’t pay his bills? Only after you humiliated yourself before your family, friends, and community would the $1,000,000 payment be credited to your account. Would you do this?
According to Evangelicals, Jesus Christ is the Son of God — the second being in the triune Godhead. Two thousand years ago, Jesus — born of a virgin who was inseminated by the third being in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit — came to earth from Heaven to die on a Roman cross for human sin. For three years, Jesus wandered Palestine, working miracles and preaching that the Kingdom of God was coming soon. And then, at the age of thirty-three, Jesus was condemned by the Jews and the Roman government and crucified. Three days later, Jesus resurrected from the dead. Or so, the story goes, anyway.
Christians have a variety of beliefs when it comes to Jesus’ death (atonement). According to Wikipedia, there is at least nine atonement theories:
Classical paradigm, the traditional understandings of the early Church Fathers:
- Ransom theory of atonement, which teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, usually said to have been paid to Satan or to death itself, in some views paid to God the Father, in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin. Gustaf Aulèn reinterpreted the ransom theory, calling it the Christus Victor doctrine, arguing that Christ’s death was not a payment to the Devil, but defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion.
- Recapitulation theory, which says that Christ succeeded where Adam failed. Theosis (“divinasation”) is a “corollary” of the recapitualtion.
- Satisfaction theory of atonement, developed by Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4–1109), which teaches that Jesus Christ suffered crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God’s just wrath against humankind’s transgression due to Christ’s infinite merit.
- Penal substitution, also called “forensic theory” and “vicarious punishment,” which was a development by the Reformers of Anselm’s satisfaction theory. Instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honour, it sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Penal substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath, with the essence of Jesus’ saving work being his substitution in the sinner’s place, bearing the curse in the place of man.
- Moral government theory, “which views God as both the loving creator and moral Governor of the universe.”
- Subjective paradigm:Moral influence theory of atonement, developed, or most notably propagated, by Abelard (1079-1142), who argued that “Jesus died as the demonstration of God’s love,” a demonstration which can change the hearts and minds of the sinners, turning back to God.
- Moral example theory, developed by Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) in his work De Jesu Christo servatore (1578), who rejected the idea of “vicarious satisfaction.” According to Socinus, Jesus’ death offers us a perfect example of self-sacrificial dedication to God.”
- Embracement theory
- Shared atonement theory
Most Evangelicals, believe in penal substitution, also called the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. According to this theory, all humans are sinners, subject to the eternal wrath of God. More than 2,000 years ago, God, the Father sent Jesus, his Son, to earth to horrifically die on a Roman cross. Why? Human sin had to be atoned for. There was a sin debt that had to be paid. Without atonement, all humans would be eternally punished by God for their sins. So, according to a plan cooked up by God from before the foundation of the world, Jesus — who had supernatural powers — voluntarily allowed himself to be crucified on a wooden cross between two thieves. As Jesus hung on the cross, his Father poured upon him his wrath; wrath meant for sinful humans. Jesus, in effect, was atoning not for his own sin, but the sins of the human race. Much like a person standing at the front of a line in someone else’s stead, Jesus suffered the wrath of his Father and died on the cross in our place. The resurrected Jesus — now in Heaven — acts as a mediator between God and humankind. Without his atonement and mediation, humans would still face the eternal wrath of God. Or so the story goes, anyway.
According to Evangelicals, Jesus died for every human sin — past, present, and future. Jesus’ blood atonement covers every sin that could possibly be committed, including murder, rape, sexual assault, and farting in a crowded elevator. Humans owed a sin debt, and Jesus Christ stamped the debt PAID IN FULL.
If what I have written above is true — and Evangelicals say it is — why do we humans owe Jesus (God) anything? He paid our debt, end of story, right? That’s how it should be, but that’s not quite how things work if you really want your sins washed clean by the miraculous blood of Jesus. You see, the Bank of the Third Heaven® refuses to stamp your sin loan paid-in-full until you strip naked, run through the streets of your city, and tell everyone that you are a low-life, dirty, piece of shit sinner who doesn’t deserve what Jesus did on your behalf. You will have to repeat this every day of your life, up until the moment you die. Only then, after you have daily humiliated yourself for months and years, and died with praises of Jesus on your lips, will your account be zeroed out.
Evangelicals believe that Heaven awaits them after death. But even in the sweet-by-and-by, Evangelicals are required to daily, hour upon hour, prostrate themselves before God’s throne and praise him for saving them from sin. And those of us who are forever burning in the Lake of Fire — fitted by God with bodies that will endure eternal torture? We will forever wish that we too had humiliated ourselves before the world. Or so the story goes, anyway.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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